Although kidneys of equal size can vary 10-fold in nephron number at birth, discovering what regulates such variation has been hampered by a lack of quantitative parameters defining kidney development. Here we report a comprehensive, quantitative, multiscale analysis of mammalian kidney development in which we measure changes in cell number, compartment volumes, and cellular dynamics across the entirety of organogenesis, focusing on two key nephrogenic progenitor populations: the ureteric epithelium and the cap mesenchyme. In doing so, we describe a discontinuous developmental program governed by dynamic changes in interactions between these key cellular populations occurring within a previously unappreciated structurally stereotypic organ architecture. We also illustrate the application of this approach to the detection of a subtle mutant phenotype. This baseline program of kidney morphogenesis provides a framework for assessing genetic and environmental developmental perturbation and will serve as a gold standard for the analysis of other organs.
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